Question: What three things do “Act of Valor” (2012) and “Project X” (2012) have in common? I’ll give you the first two:

1)  They both enjoyed studio-grade wide releases.

2)  They both (claim) to have $12,000,000 budgets.

If you’re wondering what the third thing is, wonder no more. The answer is “A” list stars don’t grace “Act of Valor” or “Project X”. Hell, these films don’t even have “B” List actors of any significance. Is this merely a coincidence, or are the studios creating a trend toward releasing less expensive, less star-studded films? Will doing so take the shine off of “A” list celebrities at the box office and in the media? Is this a deliberate attempt by the studios to drive down the value of “A” list stars, so that their future “A” list riddled films will cost less to make? Am I just a Hollywood conspiracy theorist?

While the answer to the above questions may not be apparent yet, one thing is apparent: the initial success of “Act of Valor” and “Project X” has set precedence. However, how the studios use that precedence is yet to be seen. Thus, today we’re going to go over the performance of “Act of Valor” and “Project X”: two very different films with a similar ability, to plant the “indie and small film flag” deep into the heart of the studio system.

Act of Valor (2011)
Released on 3,039 screens on February 24, this military thriller, which stars “active duty Navy SEALs,” ranked #1 at the box office when it made $24,476,632 over its opening weekend. The film boasted an $8,054 per screen average, which is respectable. “Act of Valor” then experienced a 44.5% drop-off at the box office, when it earned additional $13,572,578 in 3,053 theaters during its second weekend (a $4,446 per screen average). While such a drop-off from the first weekend to the second may seem significant, the perception of this picture’s performance is that it faired far better than expected. After all, it won its weekend at the box office, without stars.

Prints and Advertising Costs
One reason “Act of Valor” did so well at the box office on because its distributor, Relativity Media, reportedly spent $35,000,000 in prints and advertising to push the film on its opening weekend. Thus, the second weekend drop-off reveals the distributor scaled back the advertising in week two, which is always the case unless the film starts small and grows week after week, like “The Help” (2011) or “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding” (2002).

Other Factors For its Initial Success
Remember, this picture is a pro-America, military jewel with actual Navy SEALs, so the patriotic factor is huge. Furthermore, the film could have garnered vast interest from “gamers” as, in a sense, it’s a real life videogame.

The Verdict
This roll of the dice came up a winner for Relativity Media, because this picture is already reaping healthy returns, while still having a handful of more weeks at the box office. Furthermore, DVD, V.O.D. and videogame sales will ears several “medals” for this film.

Project X (2012)
This $12,000,000 comedy secured second place at the weekend box office when it opened March 2 to the tune of  $21,051,363 in 3,055 theaters. That’s a per screen average of $6,891, which isn’t bad. While this film performed slightly worse in its opening weekend than Act of Valor did in its, a few less advertising dollars were spent to launch Project X, and the picture still looks as if it could top $100 million domestically.

Other Factors For its Initial Success
With the multi-hundred million-dollar worldwide successes of both The Hangover (2009) and Bridesmaids (2011), two beautifully raunchy comedies that didn’t have “A” list stars, filmgoers today are conditioned to give such films a chance. Thus, if a film captures positive word-of-mouth, that film will grow “legs” and tear through the box office for several weeks.

The Verdict
Since comedies generally perform best in the country they were made in and hence usually struggle overseas, Project X will most likely enjoy a healthy run domestically, which will ensure its financial success.

Okay, everyone. That’s what I have for you today. It’s good news, surely, as indie and small films could be carving out a home for themselves in the studio system. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that a few smaller films enjoy similar success, because then this emerging trend will become a solidified segment of theatrical releases.

Now I’m off on a cross–country road trip to shoot footage for a film I’ve been working on since 2002. I thank you again for lending me your eyes and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday.

I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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